Category: Transfigurations

Gratitude

This week will mark six years since the premiere of my play, Doin’ time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House and the begining of LGBTQ activism that has shaped, challenged and aided me in my own recovery from the Ex-Gay Movement and a life of rotting under the weight of homophobia and heterosexism.

How lovely to walk in the light, to be a peace within myself about who I am and how I am wired, to get beyond the crime of trying to fit in to please other people in the name of God.

Thank God I am gay. What a gift to be given! I once would have sold my soul to be straight. How I begged God to fix me or at least to collude with me to reject a part of me. It proved unecessary. No need for all that violence against myself. I am a man who desires men and who presents in what some say is in a feminine fashion. This is not only normal for me, and many others, but a most excellent way to be wired.

Today as I prepare for my play about transgender Bible characters I experience joy and gratitude.

Puzzled

Last night I performed Transfigurations-Transgressing Gender in the Bible at Imago Dei Metropolitan Community Church in Glen Mills, PA (about 15 miles outside of Philly).

I had a diverse audience of about 45 people — college students, Quakers, straight, bi, trans and lesbian, young and old. I took my time with the piece maintaining a gentle meditative pace.

For the ending when I reveal the identity of the narrator, I had instructed the light tech to dim the lights. Then as the closing music swelled, I asked her to raise the lights to their brigthest intensity. With the music playing, I exited.

Always (up until last night) at this point the audience applauds, I wait 5 seconds then come out to take a bow. Last night I exited and then nothing. No one clapped. They sat quietly as the music played.

I stood back stage puzzled, baffled. Now what do I do? Wait? Go out anyway? And I wondered for a moment, Did they hate it? Did I confuse them? Offend them? Bore them into a coma?

After what felt like 5 minutes, I walked out onto the stage, and the audience erupted into enthusiastic applause, so much so that I had three curtain calls (I normally do two or ony one.)

So what happened? In talking to Kody and others in attendance they said they knew the play ended when I excited.

I felt the silence helped to settle the messages and images–many new and even startling for some. In many ways I felt pleased with the audience sitting in the stillness of that moment. As a performer I wonder if I did something differently this time. If so, what, and can I do it again? The whole thing puzzles and intrigues me.

Any thoughts?

On the Road Once again

After a few weeks of barely leaving the house except for social reasons, I head out today by train to Philadelphia for the beginning of travel that will bring me to Washington, DC, Baltimore, MD and Vancouver, BC (that’s in Canada). After that I am off to Nashville, TN, Denver, CO, Boulder, CO, Colorado Springs, CO and Seattle, WA. You can see my full schedule here.

This weekend I will be in Glen Mills, PA at Imago Dei Metropolitan Community Church about 15 miles out of Philadelphia. Tonight (Fri) I will perform Queer 101—Now I Know My gAy,B,Cs, a play that looks at homophobia, identity and activism through the words and lives of lesbian and gay poets. I last performed this piece in April at Manchester Community College. In it I get to perform my FAVORITE scene of any of have written, the fantasy date between Chad and Federico Garcia Lorca. (Which you can see here.)

Tomorrow (Sat) I will present Transfigurations—Transgressing Gender in the Bible. This play is probably the hardest one I do requiring the most concentration and work as an actor. It also feels like the most spiritual for me. There is one moment of intimacy and vulnerability that that has taken me years to get to. Alex once asked me how writing and performing this play has changed me. It’s a profound question, and I have yet to fully grasp the impact of this piece on my own life. I guess that is what I like about art. As Kurt Vonnegut repeated often towards the end of his life, “Everyone needs to practice art because art enlarges the soul.”

On Tuesday I head to Washington, DC to perform The Re-Education of George W. Bush—No President Left Behind! How exciting to present this piece at the nation’s capital. There is a whole section about Russia with Vlad using an Russian folk pop interpretive dance to seduce Condoleezza Rice to see Russia as foreign enemy number 1. Of course when I premiered the play back in January 2007, Russia seemed much more of an ally than it is today. Vlad’s moves are working! (That and Russian aggression and a return to Cold War politics)

From what I have scheduled thus far this presentation of the Bush play will be my penultimate performance before I retire it. 🙁 I am happy that I won’t have to perform it anymore after the November election, but PLEASE don’t make me have to write a play about McCain/Palin–Bridge to No Where and Beyond! (Goodness! I already have a title) If you live in the US, register to vote.

Have a great weekend! And if you live far from all those places where I will be the next few weeks, check out Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House–the DVD!

On the Front Porch Looking Out

I’m sitting on my front porch at my house. It’s suddenly crazy humid and I’m living AC free this summer. I live on a one-way street and someone just zipped along driving in the wrong direction. Wait, she’s getting out. She’s walking towards me. Hold on…

Okay, that was weird. She comes right up to me and introduces herself and starts chatting. I’m like, okay. She tells me all kinds of personal info about her child and the child’s husband and then asks, “So are you going to give me a tour of the place?” I’m like, “Wait, What?” Turns out she is here to see the downstairs apartment (I live in an old Victorian house and the first floor is for rent).

By the way, my landlord loves me because I am never home which saves him a ton of money since utilities are included in my rent. So yeah, feeling very much at home these days never wanting to leave again, well at least until next week.

The fall schedule has really come together nicely with performances in Vancouver, British Columbia, Washington, DC, Nashville, TN, Denver, CO and Seattle, WA. Also this month I will be outside of Philadelphia. A few other gigs are still coming into place. Sadly nothing in Texas yet 🙁 Although I have Paige in Austin who is seriously plugging for me.

I have begun to work on a new play that I am not ready to write much about yet. What I can say is that it will be completely different from anything I have ever done before. Oh, and it will not be a one person play. That’s all you get for now. Also, this fall I will begin working on a book that I’ve been asked to co-author. It’ll be about gay stuff. I’ll let you know more when I have more to say about that.

This fall will see the final performances of The Re-Education of George W. Bush (PLEASE do not make me have to re-write this play so that it is about President John McCain!) The big news is Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible. I just performed it for two audiences with several transgender people in attendance. It’s important for me to hear what they have to say about it and to get their input. All around I have gotten positive feedback both about the scholarship of the Biblical portions and about the portrayal of the trans people in the play. some folks are interested in having come to San Francisco to do it there in 2009.

So back to school for me (I perform at a high school on Tuesday) and soon I can break out the fall sweaters. I do have some wonderful personal news happening, but I will keep that under my hat for now.

Wait, here comes the woman looking at the apartment…

She likes it especially because the landlord is gay. She says that gays are clean and quiet. I’m not sure if I should feel pleased or offended. Maybe a little bit of both.

Okay, if this humidity breaks, I might just do a YouTube video. If you get totally bored this weekend, check out Joe G’s podcast. He doesn’t mention me in it for a change (I think he has been fixating on me lately.) Also, check out the video or podcasts of the amazing Mila & Jayna.

Transfigurations in DC & Beyond

On Monday I begin a three city tour of my new play, a one-person, multi-character, multi-gender play, Transfigurations — Transgressing Gender in the Bible, which explores the lives of transgender Bible characters.

On Tuesday August 26, 2008 I will present the play at the headquarters of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) 1640 Rhode Island Ave, Washington, DC. An hors d’oeuvres reception begins at 5:30 PM with the performance starting at 6:00 pm.

On Wednesday I fly to Seattle, Washington for the Gender Odyssey Conference where I will mostly soak in the many amazing workshops, but I will also offer Transfigurations as a workshop on Sunday afternoon.

Then I fly to New Orleans to take part in the Many Stories One Voice Conference. In addition to performing Transfigurations, I will also attend and present at For Such a Time as This: A Transgender Pre-Event.

The last time I presented the play was earlier in the summer in Malta. The response there surprised me with many people telling me how deeply moved they were by both the material and the way I presented it. I feel so fortunate to have this play to perform. Please tell your friends in DC, Seattle and New Orleans about it!

For my full performance schedule, click here.

Out with the Old & In with the New

It is just lovely here in St. Albans, England with so many cool LGBTIQ Christians from all over Europe. (I got an invite to Malta in July!!) I got LOADS of time with Auntie Doris (in fact I will hang out with her next week after my trip to visit John Henson in Southern Wales.) I also got to hang out with Nancy Wilson, the moderator of the Metropolitan Church. She had come to the Ex-Gay Survivor’s Conference last June, so we were finally able to catch up.

Last week I performed my last performance of Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House and tonight I made my UK premiere of Transfigurations—Transgressing Gender in the Bible. These are such different pieces that my fear has been that people who have seen Homo No Mo come in expecting much of the same zany, piled on humor.

Transfigurations is nothing like that. It functions more as a drama than a comedy with a slow, steady, meditative pace to it. As a performer, I don’t have the advantage of hearing the audience laugh, so I still find it hard to gauge the audience until the very end. Tonight’s audience gave me a long sustained standing ovation. Phew. I worry before a new show.

The local paper where I performed Homo No Mo wrote a piece about my final performance and quoted me from my Q&A session. I talked about the early days of my faith when I first came out as, about my feelings towards ex-gay leaders, and a little about my marriage to a woman. We were actually married for seven years, but had only been together for five of those years before we dramatically separated.

Toscano was so convinced that he could conquer his sexuality that he married a woman he met in New York City. The union lasted five years. He said it ended in disaster, as do most such marriages involving men who are ex-gay. He said, however, that while he was married, he was treated with more respect than before he was married, because people assumed he was straight. He said, “I was more respected, accepted at church, on jobs, everything. There’s some real straight privilege in this country, and you earn some of that when you get married.”

When Toscano ultimately rejected the notion that he could become ex-gay, he also rejected religion, at least for a time. Because, he said, “I was taught over and over that you can’t be gay and Christian.” He heard that message from the church and, often, from the gay community as well.

“For a time,” he said, “I aspired to be an atheist and failed miserably because I’m just far too wired for God. That caused me to go on another journey to try to figure out what I believe. And how I integrate my spirituality, my sexuality and my personality altogether.”

I even get a plug in there for the Quakers. (No, I don’t get any kick backs from Quaker Oats when I do Quaker evangelism).

Ultimately, he said, his answer was the Quaker community, where he is now active at local, national and international levels. “For someone who’s been oppressed by the church, and bullied and told what to do so often, it’s very validating to go in a place where they basically say, you’re coming with something valuable and you’re welcome to share it here,” he said. “Also, they are very concerned about the environment and peace and social justice and equality, and those are things that are all very meaningful to me.”

About the play and my personal relationship to it, they write,

Critics have called the play funny and hysterical, but they have also remarked that Toscano does not bash the members of the organization that tried to help him change his ways. Instead, he treats them with a degree of affection. Responding to a question about this, Toscano said, “On the one hand, I’m being highly critical of them, but I do it with a great deal of passion and understanding because that was my world for many years. I know what it’s like to be a born-again, evangelical, conservative, Republican Christian. And when I was in that world, I really believed I was making the right choices, often out of deep compassion and moral conviction.”

You can read the whole article by Fritz Mayer over at the River Reporter.

A Glowing Endorsement

I felt terrified when I performed my play Transfigurations in front of Virgina Ramey Mollenkott and her partner Suzannah. I mean Dr. Mellenkott is like the foremost scholar on gender in the Bible. She spoke earlier in the day. Earlier in the day I sat mesmerized by the depth of knowledge and the impeccable delivery.

She said she genuinely liked my play and agreed to send me a little blurb for me to put on my site. This is what she had to say,

Bible-lovers, gender-transgressors of all sorts, people who love justice! Make haste to see Peterson Toscano’s play Transfigurations as soon as possible! His biblical exegesis is insightful and accurate, and you will glean a whole new perspective painlessly because of his charming performance.

–Dr. Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, author of Omnigender, co-author of Transgender Journeys.

Transforming Faith Update

I have spent the weekend in Portland, OR at the Transforming Faith, Divining Gender Conference where in addition to performing and co-presenting with Allyson Robinson, I sat in on the most amazing and mind expanding talks.

In particular I sat in awe as I heard Dr. Virginia Ramey Mollenkott speak about Transgender Behavior and Imagery in the Bible. Dr. Mollenkott does not only provide brilliant, thoughtful and moving content, she speaks like a poet. She never wastes a word. I am not one to sit and listen to a talk much, but I could have sat there all day soaking in her words and the ways she expressed them. Scholarly performance art at its finest.

She outlined seven points that she then explored in detail.

  1. The Scriptures are trans friendly
  2. Transgender individuals and issues help to transcend stereotypes.
  3. The presence of transgender people in the Bible (and faith communities) are reminders of diversity.
  4. Transgender people have historically built the bridges between the seen and the unseen world.
  5. Transgender people become specialists in gender, sexuality and spirituality.
  6. Transgender issues and people help bring people to the often forgotten middle ground. In doing so they help to challenge the religious addiction to certainty.
  7. Transgender people demonstrate that all genders and sexualities are sacred revealing a holy, divine continuum.

Another talk that opened my eyes and gave me new information was one by Faisal Alam, the founder of Al-Fatiha, a US-based organizaton dedicated to supporting and empowering LGBTIQ Muslims. He led us in tradition Muslim prayer and then gave a talk entitled, Hidden Voices: The Lives of LGBT Muslims.

Did you know that the second highest percentage of Gender Reassignment Surgery in the world is in Iran (the first being in Thailand)? Faisal shared the history behind that and how by looking at science and listening to stories clerics came to the place where they said it was acceptable for someone to have such surgeries. As one cleric put it, it sia way to align one’s organs with one’s soul in order to reveal what is hidden.

Faisal also spoke about the Islamic Reformation that took place before the Crusades and how progressive Islam was back then. Sadly many of the writings of that time were destroyed by Crusaders or are housed in the Vatican with very limited access. As a result, the faith in many places has been co-opted by extreme views that oppress women and stifle discussion.

My show was well received. One trans woman gave me the highest possible praise when she said that by the end of the show as she wondered about me as I morphed into various genders. She suddenly grew confused and didn’t know if I was a bio gay male or a female to male trans person or if I was pre-op male to female trans. Music to a gender-shifting actors ears.

Today Christine Bakke and I will meet with a group of mental health professionals and trauma experts to discuss the harm of gay reparative therapy and ex-gay ministry in hopes to develop some treatment plans. I have to say though that during the conference and my presentations, I felt relieved that I did not have to discuss ex-gay issues. Most people there knew nothing of my Ex-Gay Survivor work or my Homo No Mo play. Talking about that stuff drains me in a way that I do not realize until I do something different.

Gotta fly to West Hills Friends Church to hang out with some of my Quaker folks.

Transforming Faith Conference

I head off to Portland, OR (one of my all time fav cities) on Thursday to attend and present at an amazing conference.

Transforming Faith: Divining Gender – A three-day interfaith gathering in Portland, Oregon that seeks to:

  • Educate communities of faith in the spectrum of gender identities and gender expressions
  • Give tools and resources for supporting gender variant youth
  • Dismantle binary gender constructs and their reign in misogyny and homophobia
  • Nurture and empower transgender leadership.

The keynote address will be offered by Dr. Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, author of 12 books, including Omnigender.

Ah, Mollenkott, one of my heroes (sheroes?) I will present my play Transfigurations — Transgressing Gender in the Bible and also co-facilitate a workshop with Rev. Allyson Robinson.

Also presenting are

  • New Testament scholar Dr. Mary Ann Tolbert, George H. Atkinson Professor of Biblical Studies at the Pacific School of Religion and Executive Director of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry, who will address Gender and the Bible.

  • Jenn Burleton, Executive Director of TransActive will present a panel of youth and resources for supporting gender variant children and teens

  • Faisal Alam, founder of Al Fatiha (a network for LGBTQ Muslims), will be exploring the complex diversity within the Muslim world and will illustrate the many challenges facing queer Muslims.

I will walk amongst giants, and no doubt I will learn a great deal.

On Sunday I will be with Christine Bakke and a group of LGBT-affirming therapists, counselors and trauma specialists. We will gather for a Beyond Ex-Gay Summit to discuss treatment plans for ex-gay survivors. I feel thrilled about this as I meet so many survivors who don’t know where to go for help. Often well-meaning LGBT-affirming therapists do not know enough about the ex-gay movement and how to best help someone.

But before all that I head off to Champaign Urbana, IL to present tomorrow and Wednesday night and I get to hang out with fellow Quaker (and ex-gay survivor) John Holm.

Messing with Momma


Momma is in town from LA this week for the True Colors Conference. The big day of the conference was today, and of course Momma was the bell of the ball with THREE costume changes. I did a workshop about the ex-gay movement and then performed Transfigurations. I am pooped and heading to bed because we have another full day tomorrow at the conference then we will drive to my father’s house. I thought it was time to bring Momma home to meet the family :-p